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How agencies protect those with dementia, address cases of elder abuse
Legacy Link is a local nonprofit agency devoted to helping people maintain quality of life as they age. That can sometimes lead to working with Adult Protective Services, which serves Hall from an office in Commerce. - photo by Austin Steele

People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia often need someone to take care of them. But if that caregiver is not following through on the responsibilities — or placing the person they are supposed to care for in a dangerous situation — outside help may be needed.

That’s the role of Adult Protective Services, the state entity that deals with cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation of elderly people. APS staff work with law enforcement to investigate these cases and get individuals affected, including those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, into a more secure environment.

The APS office that serves Hall County is located in Commerce.

Report elder abuse
Call 866-55AGING (866-552-4464) or visit the Georgia Department of Human Services’ aging services website.

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Abby Cox, aging services director for the Georgia Department of Human Services, said APS staff refer cases to law enforcement if they can substantiate a case of abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Ravae Graham, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Human Services, said APS cannot remove an adult from their home without their consent. However, APS staff can seek other ways to bring stability to the home, such as contacting law enforcement or medical professionals for help.

Cox said elderly people, especially those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, can be susceptible to financial scams. An unscrupulous contractor may come to do work and take advantage of the person; or seeking companionship, the person might form a bond with someone who is actually trying to exploit them.

“A lot of times individuals with a dementia diagnosis might want to mask that they have something going on cognitively,” Cox said. “… People want someone to talk to, and some of these individuals who run these unscrupulous scams are very savvy, and they’ll sit on the phone with an individual for a long period of time and develop that relationship. A person might be likely to transfer the wire over.”

Legacy Link, an Oakwood-based agency on aging, sees some of the abuse firsthand and refers cases to APS if needed.

Kristin Krantz, caregiver specialist with Legacy Link, said family members may be exploiting a relative with Alzheimer’s or dementia or failing to respect what their relative wants.

Kristin Krantz is an aging resource specialist at Legacy Link in Hall County. - photo by Austin Steele

“The child sort of implies that Mom doesn’t have the right to make decisions anymore because the child feels entitled,” Krantz said, as an example. “Mom just accepts that. She doesn’t want to make her kids mad. She can’t take care of herself, so she just believes that she doesn’t have the right to make her own decision. She does.”

Krantz works with caregivers to connect them with resources they may need, such as health care or day programs for elderly adults. Legacy Link covers several North Georgia counties, including Hall, Banks, Habersham and White counties.

Everyone has the right to make decisions about their lives, including someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, who may not always seem mentally sound, Krantz said.

“A person has a right to make bad decisions,” Krantz said. “We all do, so there is a point when the person with dementia needs to know, or at least needs to be considered. Somebody needs to talk to them and say, ‘Well what do you think? What do you want?’”

Cox said early detection can be critical in preventing exploitation.

“Our goal is always early detection and diagnosis of all forms of dementia,” Cox said. “The reason for that is for an individual who has a dementia diagnosis, they have the ability to express their wishes, and that relieves a lot of stress on the care partner so that they know as the course of that dementia plays out, they are honoring their loved one’s wishes.”

Lt. Dan Franklin with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said the Sheriff’s Office receives about one or two referrals a day from APS, although that number can fluctuate.

In 2017, the Sheriff’s Office received 259 referrals from APS, with a median of 20 referrals per month. In 2018, as of Sept. 6, the Sheriff’s Office had received 185 referrals.

Franklin said referrals can come from other relatives who see that the caregiver is not doing the job, home health care employees or others who interact with people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Law enforcement interactions with APS are similar to those with the Division of Family and Children Services, he said.

The role of law enforcement is to conduct an investigation and pursue criminal charges if needed, he said.

“We’re all working as a team to make sure that this person is safe and taken care of … and they can get out of a bad situation, but we concentrate more on the criminal aspect and gathering the evidence and doing interviews,” Franklin said.

Elder abuse investigations are conducted based on an investigator’s specialty, such as financial exploitation or physical abuse, he said.

Cox said the Georgia Department of Human Services has prioritized law enforcement training so officers are prepared to deal with someone who may have Alzheimer’s or dementia. These individuals may wander off or be mistaken as using drugs, she said, and the goal is to keep these people safe, not have them arrested.

Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual or financial, according to the Georgia Department of Human Services. Elderly people can also be neglected if their caregivers are not providing what they need such as food or medicine, and self-neglect is also an issue if someone is putting themselves in harm’s way. While self-neglect is not a crime, APS can step in to protect the person’s safety.

Anyone can make a report of elder abuse over the phone, online or by contacting local law enforcement.